Her Sharp Wit Paved The Way For Modern Black Comedians

mabley and white at an event together
Via picryl
Tremain Prioleau II
November 21, 2022

As minstrel shows began to lose traction, Black comedy transitioned away from theatrical skits to something that resembles today’s stand-up. Jackie “Moms” Mabley, a Black and openly lesbian woman, was one of the prominent early comics of the time.

 Mabley conducted her shows in front of mostly Black crowds while working the “Chitlin’ Circuit” – a set of venues open and safe for Black entertainers during the era of racial segregation. Mabley’s acts included highly sensitive and controversial material – she called out racism and sexism.

Mabley’s use of satire and social  commentary laid the groundwork for dozens of notable comics to follow. From Dick Gregory, Redd Foxx, Richard Pryor, and more, Mabley paved the way for Black comedians to be as honest about our place in this country as possible.

Black comedians are responsible for some of our most cherished moments of laughter and joy. Whether through an on-point impersonation or a way-too-real joke, comics like Mabley give us memories to replay over and over again.

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